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Pros & Cons of the No Child Left Behind Act


School children (14-18) raising hands in class
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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002(NCLB) was initially legislated for 5 years, and has been since temporarily extended, but not officially reauthorized.

Senate Democrats were divided were divided on reauthorization, while most Senate Republicans heartily despise NCLB. In May 2008, Senate reauthorization was put on the backburner while legislators pondered hundreds of reform ideas.

In early 2010 and again on March 14, 2011, President Obama said he will seek to reauthorize NCLB, but modified to be similar to his $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative, which requires five major education reforms for K-12 public education, and pushes states to compete for education funding, rather than automatically receiving it based on a formula.

At Race to the Top, Obama's 2010 Education Grant Initiative, read a summary of Obama's controversial five reforms which are a model for his planned reform of NCLB.

NCLB is a federal law that mandates a number of programs aimed at improving U.S. education in elementary, middle and high schools by increasing accountability standards.

The approach is based on outcome-based theories education that high expectations goal-setting will result in greater educational achievement for most students.

Supporters of NCLB
Supporters of NCLB agree with the mandate for accountability to educational standards, and believe emphasis on test results will improve the quality of public education for all students.

Proponents also believe that NCLB initiatives will further democratize U.S. education, by setting standards and providing resources to schools, regardless of wealth, ethnicity, disabilities or language spoken.

See specific PROS of NCLB at page 2 of this article.

Opponents of NCLB
Opponents of NCLB, which includes all major teachers' unions, allege that the act hasn't been effective in improving education in public education, especially high schools, as evidenced by mixed results in standardized tests since NCLB's 2002 inception.

Opponents also claim that standardized testing, which is the heart of NCLB accountability, is deeply flawed and biased for many reasons, and that stricter teacher qualifications have exacerbated the nationwide teacher shortage, not provided a stronger teaching force.

Some critics believe that the federal government has no constitutional authority in the education arena, and that federal involvement erodes state and local control over education of their children.

See specific CONS of NCLB at page 2 of this article.

Current Status

In January 2007, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings published "Building on Results: A Blue print for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act," in which the Bush Administration:
  • Asserts that the Act "is challenging our students to succeed and our schools to improve."

  • Claims that "90% of teachers have met NCLB's highly qualified teacher requirements... At-risk students are getting help earlier... children with disabilities are receiving more classroom time and attention... "

  • Spellings' report admitted problems that NCLB has identified and not cured, including:

  • Between 1999 and 2004, reading scores for 17-year-olds fell 3 points, and math scores fell 1 point.

  • U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 24th out of 29 developed nations in math literacy and problem-solving, in 2003.

  • 1 million students annually drop out of high school before graduation.
Changes Proposed by Bush Administration
To strengthen the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush Administration proposes:

* "A stronger effort must be made to close the achievement gap through the high school standards and accountability." TRANSLATED: More testing, and tougher tests.

* "Middle and high schools must offer more rigorous coursework that better prepares students for postsecondary education or the workforce." TRANSLATED: Tougher and more basics-focused courses in middle and high school. Also, clearer differentiation between college bound and non- college bound students.

* "States much be given the flexibilities and new tools to restructure chronically underperforming schools, and families must be given more options." TRANSLATED: The most controversial new proposal would enable students at failing schools to receive a voucher to transfer to a private school.

Thus, the Bush Administration is proposing that public school funds would be used to pay private and religious schools. Until now, students at perennially failing schools had the options to either transfer to another public school or receive extended tutoring at the school's expense.


The 670-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was passed with strong bipartisan backing by the House of Representatives on December 13, 2001 by a vote of 381-41, and by the Senate on December 18, 2001 by a vote of 87-10. President George W. Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002.

The primary sponsors of NCLB were President George W. Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, a decades-long advocate for raising the quality of public education for all American children.

NCLB was partially based on education reform strategies instituted by President Bush during his tenure as Texas governor. Those Texas education reforms were reputed to result in improved standardized test scores. Subsequent inquiry revealed test-rigging by some educators and administrators.

Margaret Spellings, Former Secretary of Education
One of the principal authors of NCLB was Margaret Spellings, who was nominated to Secretary of Education in late 2004.

Spellings, who holds a B.A. in political science from University of Houston, was the political director for Bush's first gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and later served as a senior advisor to Texas Gov. Bush during his term as 1995 to 2000.

Before her association with George W. Bush, Spellings worked on an education reform commission under Texas Governor William P. Clements and as associate executive director for the Texas Association of School Boards. Prior to her nomination to be Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings worked for the Bush Administration as Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy.

Margaret Spellings has never worked in a school system, and has no formal training in education.

She is married to Robert Spellings, former Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the Texas House, now a prominent attorney in Austin, Texas and Washington D.C., who has actively lobbied for the adoption of school vouchers.

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